John Sandford is the author of the very successful Prey series of books. These novels focus on Lucas Davenport, the Deputy Police Chief of Minneapolis, Minn. One of Davenport's criminal investigators is Virgil Flowers, a unique character who has his own way of doing things. A few years ago Sandford decided to spin off Flowers into a series of his own books. Mad River is the sixth and latest of the Virgil Flowers stories.
Flowers is on vacation when he gets a call from Davenport about some killings in a small Minnesota town that is near Flowers' birthplace. He immediately heads out and learns that three people, a woman and two men, are apparently on a killing spree. Flowers soon identifies who they are but he cannot locate where they are. The longer he goes without capturing them, the more bodies pile up.
In heading up his investigation, Flowers must also contend with the local police chief. The local community wants these murderers killed when found. They don't want a trial and all that includes. They want vigilante justice, but Flowers wants them taken alive so he can get more information about the who's and why's of this spree.
Mad River takes the reader inside Flowers' head. You get to see the connection Flowers has with his father, who is a local minister, and his mother who adores him. You also see the romantic side of Flowers as he meets an old girlfriend and renews their acquaintance. It is a multi-faceted look at a man who has been a bit of a shadowy figure in the past.
The strength of Sandford's writing is in the plotting. He has a strong assurance in the way he writes his stories and a confidence in the way they are executed. In Mad River, he delivers a full plot but not a totally complete one. There are some things left for the reader to decide, and in this story that works for me. For others it might be a hindrance to their enjoyment.
There is also a lot of humor in Sandford's delivery. Flowers makes some wry observations that are just spot on. Plus the give and take he has with the locals is hilarious. Sandford has the Minnesota mindset down to perfection and each joke and each humorous retort strikes the reader as absolutely genuine.
The best thing about Sandford's writing is that it is still fresh. He writes with enthusiasm and never coasts on his merits or uses any tricks of the trade. Mad River is just as refreshing as the first novel he ever wrote.
Mad River is published by Putnam. It contains 400 pages and sells for $27.95.